Governor Pat McCrory spent more than five years campaigning for his current job and it seemed like he couldn’t give a stump speech without complaining about what he called “the culture of corruption” in Raleigh.
McCrory used the term for almost everything he didn’t like about the previous administration in Raleigh, but he most often used it when he talked about who was paying for the former governor’s campaign flights or winning state contracts or other ways that special interests had undue influence over decisions made by top state officials.
McCrory promised a more transparent administration, more open and honest. He would be different.
Last week, McCrory and his top lieutenants huddled in private meetings with anonymous donors at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro to raise money for McCrory’s political organization that has already spent close to a million dollars running television ads defending McCrory’s sputtering performance in his first nine months in office.
No one is exactly sure of the details of the two days. The officials with the Renew North Carolina Foundation won’t disclose them. New accounts have reported that dinner with McCrory Thursday cost $1,000 and attending the entire two-day soiree was a cool $10,000 so there probably weren’t too many underpaid teachers there.
Some of the donors rubbing elbows in secret with the governor who promised to be transparent paid much more, $25,000 or $50,000, for a yearlong membership in the shady foundation. There’s no telling what those folks received for their money but it’s a safe bet it wasn’t just dinner or a meeting or two.
And it wasn’t just McCrory who the well-heeled bought access to. State Budget Director Art Pope, who knows something about the power of spending money to influence politics, was there. As were McCrory’s top economic adviser Tony Almeida and other key players in his administration.
The head of the Foundation is John Lassiter, McCrory’s former campaign manager who McCrory tapped this summer to head the N.C. Economic Development Board. The Board will oversee a new nonprofit that will run the state’s business recruitment efforts that include awarding millions of dollars of taxpayer money to lure new companies to the state or convince companies already here to stay.
That’s awfully convenient, having the same person asking corporations for anonymous contributions to support the governor playing a role in deciding which companies will receive millions of dollars from the state.
It marks the second time this year McCrory and his top staffers have taken time away from their official duties to meet with secret donors at the Grandover to raise anonymous cash. The Foundation held a similar private event in June during the height of the legislative session when lawmakers were making key budget decisions in the backrooms.
Foundation officials refuse to disclose its donors or even an agenda for the days of access their money is buying with the state leaders who are supposed to be working for us.
McCrory hasn’t been asked lately about selling access to his office but he needs to be. When questions were raised about the Foundation last December, then Governor-elect McCrory bristled and said he wasn’t “engaged” with the group.
He is certainly engaged now, fully immersed his own culture of corruption.
Chris Fitzsimon writes for NC Policy Watch.